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Bad service bad for business

“We need, at minimum, to encourage our customers to complain.”


A bride-to-be goes into a wedding shop. She eyes a dress she likes and asks the clerk if she may try it on. “You don’t really think you’re going to fit into that, do you?” responds the clerk.

A restaurant customer sits at his table in front of a plate of food he did not order. He summons the server. The server fetches the cook. Then both cook and server stand at the customer’s table insisting he got what he asked for.

Upon entering a small clothing store, a shopper is eyeballed head to toe by the person at the counter. The non-verbal message is “I doubt you can afford to shop here.”

Not surprisingly, the customers never come back. They may never tell the store owner or manager why. But they will tell others – and then some.

Some business analysts say an incident of awful customer service gets relayed at least eight or 10 times. Others say horror stories get retold far more often than that. In other words, tick someone off, and you’ve turned away more business than you think.

The above, real-life stories were swapped by participants from across Manitoba attending the Take the Leap – Manitoba Rural Entrepreneurship Conference held earlier this fall. This is the second year for the conference, which aims to help rural business owners improve their skills, and those of their staff.

Indifferent, incompetent or just plain lousy customer service rendered by poorly trained staff, or even owners themselves, can spell death to business, participants heard in a lively session titled, aptly enough, Screw the Customer. Yet, at the same time bad service is killing business, owners may not even know what’s doing it.

“Ninety-six per cent of dissatisfied customers never complain (to the business directly)… is that a scary statistic for business owners?” said Pamela McTavish, a MAFRI business development specialist who led the session devoted to seeing customer service in new light.

Customer service is generally defined as a series of activities or events that enhance the level of customer satisfaction, or sense that a product or service has met their expectations.

It’s a false belief that business owners have no influence over whether or not a customer will come back, said McTavish. “We need, at minimum, to encourage our customers to complain,” she said.

In fact, most customers will come back if complaints are heard, and handled in a professional manner.

“Moments of truth”

How can complaints be avoided in the first place? Staff training can help. Manitoba Tourism and Education Council ( workshops teaching the basics of excellent, consistent customer service, including communications skills and helping staff understand how their role impacts the company they work for. The workshops also help staff understand the “moments of truth” from a customer’s perspective. These are the experiences where the customer comes into contact with a business, and forms an impression of it.

A Manitoba bed and breakfast operator who spoke in Dauphin said they’ve worked really hard to make those “moments of truth” positive experiences. They make sure customers feel free to tell them how to improve, said Tamela Friesen, co-owner of Roblin-area Wild Berry Lane Bed and Breakfast, which recently earned a prestigious national award.

They don’t ask visitors, “Is there anything else we can do?” she said. “We ask ‘what can we do to improve?’ We assume we can improve.”

They also have a philosophy of customer service, she added. “It’s rooted in what I believe about people first, all people,” she said. “And that is that each individual is inherently worthy of a high level of respect.”

Eugene Warwaruk, a founding partner of Winnipeg’s Luxsolé Restaurant (now Luxalune), today also a MAFRI business development specialist, said their restaurant found customer comment cards and feedback surveys really helped them improve service.

They’d get back comments back on everything from details such as “not enough cheesecake in this flavour” to complaints about service, Warwaruk said.

“It was all really interesting to know,” he said. “You really found, if you used it well, what you could improve on.”

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About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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